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Music as a career - be careful what you wish for...

scottbuckley

Active Member
Hey guys,

I was trawling through my old forum posts looking for an elusive link to an old file, and came across a post I made back in 2007 (under another user ID!), regarding being in a writing rut and feeling creatively frustrated after recently quitting my day job and writing library music for a living.

http://vi-control.net/community/threads/in-a-rut-help.6190/

I wanted to share it because a) some of you have also expressed your concerns about stifled creativity and writing ruts, and b) it's interesting to reflect my career, and the decisions I've made, which really do converge to this specific post.

This is just my experience, which will be different to most, but I feel it's important to share all aspects of working in this crazy music industry. Feel free to skip down to my point below the lines if you don't care about my entire backstory ;).

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
At the time of the original post, I was fairly fresh out of a music degree, and was in a music tech sales/training position before I was given the opportunity to write trailer music for a respected LA-based library (I'm omitting the name for a few reasons I won't go into here) around the start of 2006. This was my chance to quit the daily grind, and chase my dreams! However, as I express in my post, I struggled with feelings of apathy, frustration and disappointment with my work - even though I was satisfying my boss and clients.

These feelings continued for the next few years, working in both Australia and in the US, regardless of the success we were achieving, or the great experiences I was having writing for and recording my orchestral works. You have to understand that this was apparently my 'dream job', and it was cushy - a salary and a supportive boss - which is way more than most library composers get these days. We were getting some great placements, and they were getting more and more frequent as time progressed.

But in short, I hated it. I hated the fact that this fun, enjoyable activity turned into a grind. It turned into a 9-5, passionless thing full of stress and anxiety. Music became less about the art, or even the craft, and more about the transaction. As time went on, my feelings started to show and tensions between my boss and I began surfacing.

At my wits end, I left the US in 2008, and for a long time, music writing altogether.

It took a long time to shift my goal posts, to figure out what the hell I was doing. Music was completely wrecked for me, and I felt so naïve, and so very lost. Long story short, I was encouraged by my wife to follow an alternative interest in science all the way through to a PhD in soil/plant science, and I finally feel like I've found the place where I should have been so many years ago.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

I guess the point I want to make is - if you are struggling with similar issues, but are firm about the idea of making music your career, your daily job - you have to be aware that your perspective of it may change, and maybe not for the better. The transition from music as a hobby, to music as a full-time job was jarring for me, and came with pressure and complimentary anxieties I wasn't ready for.

In the original post, @midphase spoke about the 'survival of the fittest' aspect, and he's right to a certain extent. I maybe had my own trial-by-fire and failed, but I also don't think that is something to be ashamed of. I'm so pleased that I had this experience, which taught me a lot about myself and my limits, and I'm proud that I made the decision to leave. And after a long break, I'm finally writing again - but this time, for myself. It's the best ;).

Let's be clear, though - I'm not advocating that if you are feeling this way, you should quit. But, it's up to you to change your situation, to get back in control. It took me many years of 'working through it' to realise that things weren't going to get better for me, but I hope that this isn't the same for the rest of you.

Anyway, enough about me. If anyone needs to chat, feel free to PM me :).

-s
 

Lynyrd

New Member
Scott, thank you for sharing your story. What an interesting and exciting experience. I'm sure your music will be much better now from an artistic point of view!
 

passsacaglia

Senior Member
Great one - this gives another perspective and something everyone can feel.
The latest stuff I have worked on, have been stressfull because of the short of time mostly and due to my school which was my 100% job, now I have started my work but still have some school left.

Haven't "made it" yet but have a long curicculum behind me of music and music related cool jobs and offerings.
Although, personally I haven't reached my goals yet...but my 3 most influencing artists/composers are Yann Tiersen, Philip Glass and James Horner. My "dream" is...just to work, somehow with the music. It doesn't have to be writing trailer music, but Having my music in films etc, this seems a little bit "better" than always Writing music to a specific piece etc.
Then 30-40% is the nice feeling of actually working and get hired by film producers wanting music.
The rest is the "artist" side of me, I want to be on a stage performing...either with a punk band with a singer, drummer and a guitarist or just me playing my pieces on a concert in a hall for audience, like Philip Glass for example, or having my work played. That's my dream of music... at the moment I'm in an IT company specified in IT solutions for healthcare, so I'm an architect/informatitician developing new cool tools, drawing sketches of systems etc, it's fun and creative but, I would dream to just, wake up, take a walk a la Steve Jobs, have a coffee, nice lunch in the sun, write some music in the afternoon, look at beautiful places in the world on Google, write some more music, have a relaxed life as a musician..Getting older has really got me into thinking like what do I want to do in my life, remember you only live once, do what you want etc.

So...perhaps your experience is the kind of more "stressfull" or have the tendency to develop these feelings and experiences maybe... I can't let go of the music, if I'm not near my piano, the music is coming through me inside my head and I have to write them down on my cellphone in "notes", it's like... I hear melodies and beautiful passages I can play for hours, and I cannot stop it, that's my "sign", and forces me to do it, continue with it, take my time, record it, chasing the dreams, and in 90% of the cases people love it and they want to hear it somewhere, in a movie, series or whatever.
So that's my "call". And that way of being a "musician", just making music I think is more nicer than always have pressure on yourself...I think, so it can be 2 sides of the coin here :)
But very interesting reading and big ups for you sharing it! Hope it was cool to chip in what was buzzing in my head when reading it hehe.
 

Arbee

Senior Member
Great insight Scott, thanks for sharing it. I had a similar epiphany way back in 1991 where, after some soul searching and despite record deals, TV music shows, playing with international celebs and even playing for royalty, I changed course from 14 years of pro music into business software development and management. Best thing I ever did....

Here I am some 20 years later on the way back the other way to music, leaving corporate life behind me. Best thing I ever did....

Not only different strokes for different folks, but sometimes just different times in the lives of the same folks. Once the music is in you however, it has a way of finding its way back. Like you, I now do what I want musically, how I want, when I want. Heaven!....
 
OP
scottbuckley

scottbuckley

Active Member
So...perhaps your experience is the kind of more "stressfull" or have the tendency to develop these feelings and experiences maybe... I can't let go of the music, if I'm not near my piano, the music is coming through me inside my head and I have to write them down on my cellphone in "notes", it's like... I hear melodies and beautiful passages I can play for hours, and I cannot stop it, that's my "sign", and forces me to do it, continue with it, take my time, record it, chasing the dreams, and in 90% of the cases people love it and they want to hear it somewhere, in a movie, series or whatever.
So that's my "call". And that way of being a "musician", just making music I think is more nicer than always have pressure on yourself...I think, so it can be 2 sides of the coin here :)
But very interesting reading and big ups for you sharing it! Hope it was cool to chip in what was buzzing in my head when reading it hehe.
I find this too - once the music is in you it's hard to stop it. I found this the hardest part of stopping the music work, because I found my compass was always redirecting me back to it. But even when I was finally back in Australia writing for myself, I hated the music I wrote and felt very emotional - even physically angry/sick - about that. I even hated listening to music because I just couldn't switch off that part of me that was back in LA writing trailer music.

As I said, though - I'm in a much better place now. :D

-s
 
OP
scottbuckley

scottbuckley

Active Member
Great insight Scott, thanks for sharing it. I had a similar epiphany way back in 1991 where, after some soul searching and despite record deals, TV music shows, playing with international celebs and even playing for royalty, I changed course from 14 years of pro music into business software development and management. Best thing I ever did....

Here I am some 20 years later on the way back the other way to music, leaving corporate life behind me. Best thing I ever did....

Not only different strokes for different folks, but sometimes just different times in the lives of the same folks. Once the music is in you however, it has a way of finding its way back. Like you, I now do what I want musically, how I want, when I want. Heaven!....
So great to hear this. In many ways I think I was just too 'young', and too naïve to deal with the business, and to be objective. It was only 9-10 years ago, but I really was a different person back then. I can even notice it in how I wrote that original post - I sounded so young it's cringeworthy! :D

-s
 

Mike Fox

Senior Member
Very cool thread. It's posts like these that continue to make me realize that being a probyist is probably where it's at for me. They say you should do what you love career wise, but maybe it's different with music? I recall an Elfman interview where he said that what he was doing wasn't fun, but rather hard work. I think If anyone wants to pursue music as a career, they should probably accept the fact that the fun could diminish, and the work could begin.
 

prodigalson

Senior Member
Seth Godin has a good book called 'The Dip' which is subtitled "A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick)."

He talks about the fact that not only do successful people quit things but they "quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt"
 

reddognoyz

Senior Member
I stuck with it, maybe because it was all I ever did that I liked careerwise, or I didn't see another choice, or I got lucky and strung together enough jobs that I kept it going, although there were plenty of times when I had nothing lined up, whatever I stayed in music. I found my niche around 1999 and have kept that going, although these days I am not inspired by about 80% of the work I do, but that's after 30 odd years, and I am hoping I will have another act before I'm done.
I took some side trips for sure, a long period of sound design work as my best money making, years of godawful promos, (doing the whole thing, music vo record sound design mix), lots of the kind of jobs that got me by don't even exist these days. Advertising music was a viable career with lots of back end and good fees upfront, even demos paid well if you could bust them out. If you had a studio, a really big money maker was making dubs and sending them out via messenger. Gone.

I had a conversation with a friend who is the current music director at Blue Man, he asked me if I knew a soul from back when I was at Berklee who was still in this biz. I replied in the negative, he concurred.
When I was in school "you gotta love it" was the catch phrase from every teacher. I didn't fully digest that until reciently. I still play music for myself almost every day, I do love it. I don't go to work bristling with anticipation like I did for many many years, but I still do often enough to keep me going.
 

Ashermusic

Senior Member
Anything that becomes an adult job to make a living, will get less exciting and become more about consistent performance. And the busier you are with your work, probably the more stress. Music is not immune from this.

That said, the worst day I have ever had making music for a living was better than the best day any coal miner will ever have. I try to keep that in mind.
 

Studio E

Eric Watkins
I don't know at this point what the top rung will ever be for me and in a way, that's kind of nice. I'm at the end of a 4 year streak right now in which my work improved drastically but probably received less money than many years before that. I am only a part time composer and I haven't really actively sought work. Some but not much. What I can say, is that when I have a project I love, and have a reasonable amount of time to deal with it, I am loving life. But when I am stretched across 4 projects (like I am now) and only 1.5 of them really interest me, and I'm trying to have any resemblance to a normal life, it gets very frustrating very fast, especially if I am having a hard time hitting the mark with the music. One thing I have found that I enjoy almost as composing is recording and mixing other people's music. It's nice to break it up a little for sure. I'm 15 years from retirement at my day job. I figure that if I want to go fulltime, I can do that in retirement.
 

Desire Inspires

To the stars through desire....
Sounds like a case of sour grapes.

Whatever job I have, I am thankful for it. I don't complain or get upset or angry because it isn't a dream. Life isn't about being happy all the time. Work is work.

So I say to anyone that wants a career in music to not go into it with this dream idea. Go into it with the idea that you are there to work to support others. That is how most jobs are. It is not a bad thing.
 

AllanH

Senior Member
About 8+ years ago a major employer in the silicon valley was trying to figure out what made people happy at work. To most peoples surprise, at the time, the most significant aspect of happiness was working with people you enjoyed working with. Salary, benefits, schedule etc were all lower priorities.

When choosing a lonely profession, such as at-home composer or consultant, it's easy to get disconnected and feel out of touch. I think communities, such as VI-Control can help with that.
 

dannymc

Senior Member
About 8+ years ago a major employer in the silicon valley was trying to figure out what made people happy at work. To most peoples surprise, at the time, the most significant aspect of happiness was working with people you enjoyed working with. Salary, benefits, schedule etc were all lower priorities.

When choosing a lonely profession, such as at-home composer or consultant, it's easy to get disconnected and feel out of touch. I think communities, such as VI-Control can help with that.
really interesting point. for someone who has full time day job as an engineer i can say that one of the benefits of a day job like this is the people you work with and the human relationships you develop with your colleagues including the fun and laughs.

i often wondered if i worked as a full time composer around the clock locked away in my man cave every day would i feel as fulfilled? i know i give more time to music than anything else in my life with no guaranteed return so i guess that makes it something i'm really passionate about. but i can also see the possible negative in a full time career as in the possible isolation that might occur and i don't think thats good for anyone's mental state.

i suppose everyone's situation is different but for me a great goal would be one day be able to go part time in my day job like a 3 day week and spend the rest of the time focusing on the music.

Danny
 
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